Color us crazy, but we'd have thought someone would have raised an ethical concern or three after the Los Angeles County Sheriff's arson squad blew up an LA Times newsrack in Santa Clarita on Friday. The concern we refer to is not whether deputies were under orders from the Sheriff Lee Baca to get back at the Times for some journalistic slight against him (pick one), nor are we hinting at an excessive use of force to bring down a newspaper box because some passersby mistook a device attached to it for a bomb. No, what we thought may generate a question or three to the Times' brain trust was whether it's appropriate for an independent news source to use its delivery system as a way to promote a summer blockbuster movie, in this case the Tom Cruise starrer Mission Impossible III. The device, you see, was supposed to play the famous Mission Impossible theme song to give a boost (like the popcorn movie needs it) to this Friday's opening of M=I=3. The devices were placed in 4,500 randomly selected news boxes in LA and Ventura counties in, as the Times' April 29 report on the film promo misfire put it, “a venture with Paramount Pictures designed to turn the 'everyday news rack experience' into an 'extraordinary mission.'” In these days of people piloting jetliners into skyscrapers, it should be no surprise that folks would call the LASD to report strange boxes with wires coming out of them being attached to the rack outside their neighborhood Denny's.
Okay, your favorite Screwy J-School Syntax Chronometer is not implying that the Times-Paramount “venture” is as blatantly audacious as the Times-Staples Center “venture” where the newspaper's edvertorialitising section devoted to the shiny arena's opening sparked much controversy, hand-wringing and a chance for David Shaw to scorn the very people signing his paychecks (much to the delight of bitter, Scotch-soaked journos everywhere). But a venture is a venture is a venture, and when your foundation is built on being an impartial observer of your town's No. 1 industry (no, not homeless people; ENTERTAINMENT!), it does come off a bit cheesy, a bit sleazy, a bit sleepy, dopey and doc that you'd turn the containers holding your products into another annoying advertising outlet. Jeez, what's next? The Hormel Chili theme song the next time you're sitting on a public crapper?
It seems to us that wrapping your newspaper in advertisement should be about as close to the line as a media company should get. And if they toss in a free Ban Roll-On with the Sunday funnies, fine, Lord knows we all could use some more deodorizing. But turning your box into a circus barker rings of an endorsement for that particular product days before we'll even get a chance to ignore Kenneth Turan's boring M=I=III review.
Look, we're as aware as you are that print is dead, and before selling off the broken desks and disgusting microwaves that our respective venture capitalist owners are going to squeeze money out of pores we never knew existed (because they never did before). And while we're enjoying the air up here on this soap box, we're quite aware that our new owners may very well resort to the same kind of money-grubbing bullshit you Big Boys are. But that doesn't . . . uh . . . forgot our point.
Just know that when you hear the voice of A+ 100% All-American Stud Hot N Hung coming out of our boxes, the terrorists have won.